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to find out the truth, but in order to find what may authorize their own opinions. Nor is it, indeed, otherwise to be accounted for, that the several partisans of such an endless variety of adverse sects (although men who, on other subjects, appear neither weak nor unfair in their researches) should all with so much confidence maintain, that the dictates of holy writ are perfectly decisive in support of their favourite dogmas, and in opposition to those of every antagonist. Nor is there, in the whole history of mankind, a clearer demonstration than this, of the amazing power of prejudice and prepossession.

It may be said, that interest often warps men's judgment, and gives them a bias towards that side of a question in which they find their account; nay, it may even be urged further, that, in cases in which it has no influence on the head, it may seduce the heart, and excite strenuous combatants in defence of a system which they themselves do not believe. I acknowledge that these suppositions are not of things impossible. Actual instances may be found of both. But, for the honour of human nature, I would wish to think that those of the second class now mentioned are far from being numerous. But, whatever be in this, we certainly have, in cases wherein interest is entirely out of the question, nay, wherein it appears evidently on the opposite side, irrefragable proofs of the power of prepossession, insomuch that one would almost imagine that, in matters of opinion, as in matters of property, a right were constituted merely by pre-occupancy. This serves also to account, in part, for the great diversity of sentiments in regard to the sense of Scripture, without recurring to the common plea of the Romanists, its obscurity and ambiguity.

8. Thus the principal difficulties to be encountered in the study of biblical criticism are six, arising, 1st, from the singularity of Jewish customs; 2dly, from the poverty (as appears) of their native language; 3dly, from the fewness of the books extant in it; 4thly, from the symbolical style of the prophets; 5thly, from the excessive influence which a previous acquaintance with translations may have occasioned; and, 6thly, from prepossessions, in what way soever acquired, in regard to religious tenets.

DISSERTATION III.

OF THE STYle of the scripture HISTORY, PARTICULARLY THE GOSPELS.-ITS PERSPICUITY DEFENDED AGAINST THE OBJECTIONS OF FATHER SIMON.

FROM what has been evinced in the preceding discourse, it will not improbably be concluded, that the style of holy writ, both of the New Testament and of the Old, of the historical books as well as of the prophetical and the argumentative, must be generally obscure, and often ambiguous. So much, and with so great plausibility and acuteness, has been written by some learned men, in proving this point, that were a person, before he ever read the Scriptures, either in the original or in a translation, to consider every topic they have employed, and to observe how much, in regard to the truth of such topics, is admitted by those who cannot entirely acquiesce in the conclusion, he would infallibly despair of reaping any instruction, that could be depended on, from the study of the Bible, and would be almost tempted to pronounce it altogether unprofitable.

What can exceed the declarations to this purpose of the celebrated Father Simon, a very eminent critic, and probably the greatest oriental scholar of his age? "We ought," says he,* "to regard it as unquestionable, that the greater part of the Hebrew words are equivocal, and that their signification is entirely uncertain. For this reason, when a translator employs in his version the interpretation which he thinks the best, he cannot say absolutely that that interpretation expresses truly what is contained in the original. There is always ground to doubt whether the sense which he gives to the Hebrew words be the true sense, because there are other meanings which are equally probable." Again, "They [the Protestants] do not consider, that even the most learned Jews doubt almost every where concerning the proper signification of the Hebrew words; and that the Hebrew lexicons composed by them commonly contain nothing but uncertain conjectures." Now, if matters really as here represented, there could be no question that the

were

Hist. Crit. du V. T. liv. iii. ch. 2. On doit supposer comme une chose constante, que la plus-part des mots Hebreux sont equivoques, et que leur signification est entièrement incertaine. C'est pourquoi lors qu'un traducteur employe dans sa version l'interpretation qu'il juge la meilleure, on ne peut pas dire absolument que cette interpretation exprime au vrai ce qui est contenu dans l'original. Il y a toujours lieu de douter si le sens qu'on donne aux mots Hebreux est le veritable, puisqu'il y en a d'autres qui ont autant de probabilité.

+ Hist. Crit. du V. T. liv. iii. ch. 4. Ils n'ont pas pris garde, que même les plus sçavans Juifs doutent presque par-tout de la signification propre des mots Hebreux, et que les dictionnaires qu'ils ont composés de la langue Hebraique ne contiennent le plus souvent que de conjectures incertaines."

study of Scripture would be mere loss of time, and that, whatever might be affirmed of the ages of the ancient prophets, it could not be said at present, that there is any revelation extant of what preceded the times of the apostles: for a revelation which contains nothing but matter of doubt and conjecture, and from which I cannot raise even a probable opinion that is not counterbalanced by opinions equally probable, is no revelation at all. How defective, on this hypothesis, the New Testament would be, which every-where presupposes the knowledge and belief of the Old; and in many places how inexplicable without that knowledge, it is needless to mention.

2. It would not be easy to account for exaggerations so extravagant, in an author so judicious, and commonly so moderate, but by observing, that his immediate aim, whereof he never loses sight throughout his whole elaborate performance, is to establish TRADITION as the foundation of all the knowledge necessary for the faith and practice of a Christian. Scripture, doubtless, has its difficulties; but we know at least what, and where it is: as for tradition, what it is, how it is to be sought, and where it is to be found, it has never yet been in the power of any man to explain, to the satisfaction of a reasonable inquirer. We are already in possession of the former, if we can but expound it: we cannot say so much of the latter, which, like Nebuchadnezzar's dream, we have first to find, and then to interpret.

I am not ignorant that Simon's principal aim has been represented by some of his own communion, particularly Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, as still more hostile to religion than from the account above given we should conclude it to be. That celebrated and subtle disputant did not hesitate to maintain, that, under the specious pretext of supporting the church, this priest of the Oratory undermined Christianity itself; a proceeding which, in the end, must prove fatal to an authority that has no other foundation to rest upon. The bishop accordingly insists, that the general tendency of his argument, as appears in every part of the work, is to insinuate a refined Socinianism, if not an universal scepticism. Certain it is, that the ambiguous manner often adopted by our critical historian, and the address with which he sometimes eludes the expectation of his readers, adds not a little probability to the reasoning of his acute antagonist. When to any flagrant misinterpretation of a portion of Scripture mentioned in his work, we expect his answer from a critical examination of the passage, we are silenced with the tradition and authority of the church, urged in such a way as evidently suggests, that, without recurring to her decision, there is no possibility of refuting the objections of adversaries, or discovering the truth; and that our own reasonings, unchecked by her, if they did not subvert our faith altogether, would infallibly plunge us into all the errors of Socinus. Thus most of his discussions concerning the

import of the sacred text conclude in an alternative, which, whilst it conceals his own sentiments, bewilders his readers. The purport is, "If ye will be rational, ye must soon cease to be Christians; and if ye will be Christians, ye must (wherever religion is concerned) cease to be rational." This alternative of faith or reason, though not expressed in so many words, is but too plainly implied in those he uses. If for Christian he had substituted Roman Catholic, or even any one denomination of Christians, the sentiment would not have been so generally controverted. As it is, he offers no other choice, but to believe every thing, how absurd soever, on an authority into the foundation of which we are not permitted to inquire, or to believe nothing at all. The Critical History has accordingly been observed to produce two contrary effects on readers of opposite characters. Of the weak and timid it often makes implicit believers; of the intelligent and daring it makes free-thinkers. To which side the author himself leaned most, it would perhaps be presumptuous to say. But as his personal character and known abilities were much more congenial to those of the latter class than to those of the former, it was no wonder that he fell under suspicion with some shrewd but zealous Catholics, who looked on his zeal for tradition as no better than a disguise. But this only by the way. I mean not to consider here what was his real and ultimate scope in the treatise above-mentioned; it is enough for my purpose to examine his professed intention, which is, to support tradition, by representing Scripture as, in consequence of its obscurity, insufficient evidence of any doctrine.

That Simon's assertions above quoted are without bounds hyperbolical, can scarcely be doubted by any person who reflects. Of the prophetical writings I am not now to speak, though, even with regard to them, it were easy to show that such things could not be affirmed in an entire consistency with truth. As to the historical books, I hope to prove, notwithstanding all that has been evinced on one side, and admitted on the other, that they are in general remarkable for perspicuity. It is true that our knowledge of the tongue, for the reasons above-mentioned, is defective; but it is also true, that this defect is seldom so great as materially to darken the history, especially the more early part of it.

3. The first quality for which the sacred history is remarkable is simplicity. The Hebrew is a simple language. Their verbs have not, like Greek and Latin, a variety of moods and tenses, nor do they, like the modern languages, abound in auxiliaries and conjunctions. The consequence is, that in narrative they express by several simple sentences, much in the way of the relations usual in conversation, what in most other languages would be comprehended in one complex sentence of three or four members. Though the latter method has many advantages, in

respect of elegance, harmony, and variety, and is essential to what is strictly called style, the former is incomparably more perspicuous. Accordingly we may often observe, that unlettered people who are very attentive to a familiar story told in their own homely manner, and perfectly understand it, quickly lose attention to almost any written history, even the most interesting, the history contained in the Scriptures alone excepted. Nor is the sole reason of this exception, because they are more accustomed to that history than to any other, though no doubt this circumstance contributes to the effect; but it is chiefly because the simplicity of the diction brings it to the level of ordinary talk, and consequently does not put the minds of people who are no readers so much to the stretch, as what is written, even in the least laboured style of composition, in any modern tongue, does in regard to those acquainted with the tongue.

4. Take for an example of the simplicity here meant the first paragraph of Genesis, consisting of five not long verses, and containing not fewer than eleven sentences. The common punctuation does not indeed make them so many. When sentences are very short, we usually separate them by semicolons, sometimes by commas; but that is a complete sentence, in whatever way pointed, which conveys a meaning fully enunciated, and intelligible independently of what precedes or what follows, when what precedes and what follows is also intelligible independently of it.

1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form and void. 3. And darkness was upon the face of the deep. 4. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 5. And God said, Let there be light. 6. And there was light. 7. And God saw the light, that it was good. 8. And God divided the light from the darkness. 9. And God called the light day. 10. And the darkness he called night. 11. And the evening and the morning were the first day." This is a just representation of the strain of the original. A more perfect example of simplicity of structure we can nowhere find. The sentences are simple, the substantives are not attended by adjectives, nor the verbs by adverbs; no synonymas, no superlatives, no effort at expressing things in a bold, emphatical, or uncommon

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manner.

In order to judge of the difference of this manner from that of ordinary compositions, we need only compare version of the passage into Latin, wherei

sentence and the last, and consequen

cited, are comprised in one comr
creavit Deus coelum et terram
iners atque rudis, tenebrisque
ritus sese super aquas li
extitit lux; quam quur
a tenebris, et lucem

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